PARIS — Fashion and fame were two of Andy Warhol’s principal obsessions — and in Paris, the king of Pop Art found a fertile breeding ground for both.
Warhol may be forever identified with New York City and his Factory studio, but he was equally celebrated in the French capital, where he was a frequent visitor. The American artist at one point kept an apartment in the Left Bank neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and even enlisted Karl Lagerfeld to appear in his locally filmed underground movie “L’Amour.”
A new exhibition at the Gagosian gallery near Place Vendôme spotlights Warhol’s take on Paris and his ties with fashion, with portraits of celebrated designers including Hubert de Givenchy, Sonia Rykiel and Azzedine Alaïa.
“Andy Warhol: Paris and Fashion,” which runs until Oct. 12, presents 40 photographs ranging from his signature Polaroid portraits of celebrities, which he used as the basis for silkscreen paintings, to off-the-cuff black-and-white photographs of Paris landmarks, often taken from the back of a car.
Like a time capsule, they provide a snapshot of his life on both sides of the Atlantic, capturing events like a dinner with Diane de Beauvau-Craon, the socialite known as the “punk princess,” or a visit to Hubert de Givenchy’s atelier with art patron São Schlumberger.
“Warhol had a very acute perception of Parisian fashion, having maintained close ties with fashion throughout his career,” said Serena Cattaneo Adorno, director of Gagosian’s Paris galleries.
“His vision was obviously influenced by his friendship with famous designers with whom he shared intimate moments,” she said, singling out a Polaroid he took on vacation in Morocco with Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.
“Having said that, he was also interested in emerging designers,” Cattaneo Adorno added, noting that the exhibit features images of Diane von Furstenberg, Jean Paul Gaultier and Stephen Sprouse where they were in their early 30s. “He was already close to all these designers well before they became hugely famous.”
The images are drawn from a private collection. “What is exceptional is to gather so many emblematic snapshots of Paris and of fashion personalities in a single exhibition,” she opined.
While the Polaroids seize iconic designers like Giorgio Armani and Carolina Herrera in captivating poses, much of Warhol’s photography has a throwaway quality, explained by his documentary approach. “A picture means I know where I was every minute. That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary,” he once said.
Cattaneo Adorno noted he applied the same method to famous monuments as he did to celebrities. “It’s really an American in Paris,” she said. “The idea is always to take something iconic and reuse it.” Indeed, Warhol would go on to feature the Eiffel Tower in one of the paintings he made with Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1985.
The Gagosian team was able to date the images and identify other significant details thanks to Warhol’s diaries, which were originally published in 1989 but have gained new relevance thanks to a recent Netflix series. “This has revived interest in his life and who he hung out with,” Cattaneo Adorno said.
The exhibition includes black-and-white images of a young Carole Bouquet in a sleeveless sweater and jeans; Loulou de la Falaise smoking, and Jack Nicholson sharing a meal with Italian model and longtime Saint Laurent muse Marina Schiano. There are Polaroids of Paris nightlife queen Régine and American model and jewelry designer Tina Chow.
“Nowadays, thanks to internet, you can be in touch with anyone in the world. At the time, you had to be in Paris, at the Café de Flore, waiting for someone to walk in or walk out to have that kind of exchange,” the gallery director remarked.
In an interview with the Gagosian Quarterly magazine, von Furstenberg described how Warhol would socialize.
“He was a voyeur. He let you speak and he didn’t speak very much and when he did it was always something short and he would say it to make you say more. He wanted to know everything about you, he wanted to take your picture, he had a recorder in his pocket, he wanted to paint you. He was all-absorbing,” she recalled.
“But looking back, he had such an incredible sense of branding. He had a vision of what the world was going to be that none of us realized until it was here. In a way, he did social media before social media. He would have gone insane with Instagram. He was the original influencer,” von Furstenberg said.
Meanwhile, Warhol’s commercial work, including Polaroids of a topless man in Levi’s jeans, and a pile of Halston-branded shoes, illustrates his enduring influence on the aesthetics of fashion and advertising today. At the center of a wall of Polaroids is “Self-Portrait in Fright Wig” taken in 1986, a few months before his death, suggesting that the star of the show remains Warhol himself.